I make a distinction between sympathy, compassion and altruism. Sympathy is an emotional reaction based on “there but for the grace of God go I.” It leads to people helping people and pets who have their own human qualities. Compassion is also an emotion, however compassion is based on helping those who are not like ourselves including other species and our own enemies.
Altruism is a description of...
Altruism is a description of a cluster of behaviors that arise from many emotions including sympathy, compassion, self-service, popularity, fear, panic, brotherly love, heroism and fame seeking. Altruism is a description not a human emotion.
I think the two emotions, sympathy and compassion are hard wired in humans and we can have more of it if we present more opportunities for it, as is evident during natural disasters.
I look at Wikipedia and product/service ratings online. These are very valuable to all of us and the Internet is finding ever more ways to provide this kind of popular knowledge and information feedback. While some large part of both of these categories of free help may arise from behavior directed at being part of a group, seeing your comments posted or other self-serving motives, there remains a very large part that arise from sympathy and compassion.
That is why I say “The Internet could be a source of increased expression of sympathy and compassion over time.” The Internet is offering more opportunities for people everywhere to find a place to be helpful for many reasons and particularly for sympathetic and compassionate reasons.